Student Profile: Fernanda Becerra

May 06, 2021

Meet Fernanda Becerra - Part of ITS Student Profile Series

Written by ITS Campus Engagement, Jim Phillips

Foreign languages & computer programming


The connection between speaking foreign languages and computer programming has been widely recognized for many years now. And for those who dabble in both, they share parallels as forms of communication that rely on semantics, syntax and structure. 

When UCSC student and ITS employee, Fernanda Becerra, was young, her mom did not speak English. So, Fernanda served as her primary translator, helping her to navigate life’s routine chores and occasional challenges great and small. It became second nature for Fernanda to shift between her two native languages, and she reached a point of automaticity, referred to as simultaneous bilingualism, wherein she could translate without thinking about it. 

Once she reached high school and had the opportunity to do some serious coding with the group Girls Who Code, she found herself naturally inclined to pursue programming languages and ultimately decided to major in Computer Science at UCSC (Class of 22). Fernanda recalls,

“One thing about programming that reminds me of my childhood is that I see it as a translation. Now, whenever I write code, I think of it as translating human words into computer words based on whatever programming language I’m writing in.”

Passion for diversity, equity and inclusion

Fernanda’s passion for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) also took shape in her work with Girls Who Code, where she rose to serve in a leadership position.

“As vice president of Girls Who Code, I had some experience in helping women in STEM feel more empowered and included in their academic and professional careers. However, I also wanted to learn how a large organization could create a more inclusive and diverse culture and how I could help them accomplish that.” 

Like many computer science majors, Fernanda initially had ambitions of landing a high-paying job with one of the tech giants, like Google, Microsoft, or Facebook. But, as time went on, she shifted her focus, 

“I now want to work for a company that uses technology to improve the world and has a commitment to making the technology industry more diverse and inclusive.” 

It is this interest in DEI that led her to apply for a UCSC Professional Career Development Program (PCDP) intern position in ITS.

Professional Career Development Program

The PCDP program provides undocumented students an opportunity to receive scholarships, gain professional skills, and make progress on career development under the guidance of a mentor. The “scholarship” part of the equation is worth noting here because when a student is undocumented and also does not qualify for work authorization, they are not eligible to receive federal funds. So, the PCDP program plays an important role in connecting these students with needed positions on campus. Fernanda was ultimately selected in the fall of 2020 as the PCDP student intern for the Diversity and Inclusion Group for ITS also known as DIG IT.

It was a timely hire for ITS. DIG IT was just putting together its plan to move the division forward and needed the spark of enthusiasm that Fernanda brings in abundance to her work. ITS staff member, Kim Hwe, led the effort to recruit Fernanda, and she turned to ITS staff Cindy Miller and Jim Phillips to help with the mentoring. For Kim, serving as Fernanda’s PCDP mentor was one of the most rewarding parts of her job. 

“Fernanda has been such a joy to work with. She brings the student perspective into the DEI-related initiatives we are working on for ITS.” 

The benefits for the student in the internship program are clear: Students get an opportunity to build their professional skills. And, internship programs like these improve student retention and thereby contribute to their academic success. But the PCDP internship program is different with regard to who it benefits. It was a watershed moment for Kim who recalls that, 


“Working with Fernanda made me realize how limited the internship and employment opportunities are for undocumented students on campus. This realization played a huge part in the development of one of our DEI goals in ITS, which is to develop a proposal to pilot an ITS internship that is inclusive of all students, especially undocumented students and students from underserved communities.” And, Fernanda played an integral role in developing the ITS inclusive internship proposal.

Over time, Fernanda became more comfortable with sharing her ideas in mentorship meetings. Fernanda summed up a major takeaway from working with Kim, Jim, and Cindy in DIG IT, 

“In order to foster a diverse and inclusive environment, one must be willing to learn new ideas, and unlearn others, listen to other’s concerns, find a way for those who are underrepresented to have their voices heard, and continue speaking about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in the technology industry and everywhere else.”

Fernanda is leading an effort to overhaul the public-facing ITS Diversity Resources website. Updating the diversity website is one of the projects of which she is most proud: She put a lot of effort into it, and it relates directly to her computer science major.

Partnering with other ITS student employees

Fernanda is also quite proud of her work on a project that brought ITS student staff together. She teamed up with other student leaders in ITS: Jane Tobias, Soma Badri, and Samantha Teo. Together, they organized virtual social events during a particularly challenging time when meeting and hanging out with other students was nearly impossible. 

“Arranging and coordinating meetings helped me improve my leadership skills. Holding these events for so many students helped me become more comfortable with public speaking.” 

The idea of holding social activities for ITS student workers came about by asking the students what they wanted, listening to what they had to say, and taking action on those stated needs. And, it made perfect sense to have a team of students lead the effort.

Advice for future ITS interns

Working in ITS on a variety of momentous projects and high-visibility initiatives has had an enormous impact on Fernanda. And, the hope is to extend her internship in ITS into the coming year. Her advice to future ITS interns is simple, 

“If you have the opportunity to work in ITS, please take it! You’ll get to work with many talented people who are always willing to help you get better at what you do and who use their talents to make the UCSC community better.” 

While not the first PCDP intern for ITS, Fernanda's excellent performance and professionalism had an influence on ITS leaders who got to know her personally. They came to better understand the challenges that undocumented students face in higher education and, given these unparalleled times, how critical it is to establish a permanent inclusive internship program in ITS in 2021. It is no small feat to move a division to think more inclusively about interns and student employees. And now, the ball is in our court.